Recently I had a conversation with some friends about the importance of networking. Now I am not referring to ‘social’ networking on Facebook and LinkedIn, but rather actual mingling with real people in a physical setting, exchanging business cards and such. Networking provides a great opportunity for us to form connections with others in our industry, form potential business partnerships or just get our name out there.
At this point I would like to make a disclaimer: I am horrible at networking. Something about walking up to complete strangers, and starting a random conversation, just does not happen naturally for me.
Disclaimer aside, I do encourage you all to brush up on your networking skills, if you are not already good at it. The thing about networking though, it does not only take place at a fancy “Networking event”, it can happen ANYWHERE. Remember, it’s all about building relationships. It can happen in public transport, the grocery, the bank or whilst sitting at the hairdresser or barber. You can meet people everywhere!
Question is, do we start rambling on about ourselves or our businesses every time we meet a new person? You can, but that may come off a bit presumptuous. Here are a few tips on how you can make the most of those planned or unplanned networking opportunities and stand out as a professional.
1. Prepare your elevator speech
We’ve all heard about it (well at least I hope that we’ve all heard). They say (I really don’t know who “they” is) that you should have a prepared statement about yourself which you should be able to say in the time it takes to ride between floors in an elevator. How arbitrary right?
The point is that you need to be able to introduce yourself to someone, getting in all the salient points, in a very short time frame. You do not want to exhaust them with a long history about how you got into your line of work. This is what I came up with for myself:
Hello, I’m Bridget. I am currently a graduate student but I also offer independent services in Integrated Marketing Communication.
It’s not perfect, but it’s short, to the point and accurate. Your elevator speech is something that you can practice and tweak until you think you’ve got it right.
2. Get a business card and take it with you everywhere
If you meet someone whom you think will make a good connection, present them with your business card. How about giving it to them right after you deliver your elevator speech? Say something simple like “Let’s keep in touch” or “I’d like to chat with you some more”. Presenting someone with your card usually prompts them to also present you with theirs (once they have one).
Many people do not realize that it is quite simple to make your own business card. Before you go pulling out the arts and craft supplies, this is not a DIY project 🙂 . There are many online services that allow you to create a professional looking business card by simply entering your personal information onto a generalized template. Vistaprint is where I had mine done.
Make sure that your business card is representative of you or your business.
3. Dress the part
If you are self-employed or a small business owner, you are always on the job. Not literally, but you have to accept that you may meet a potential client or business partner in any setting. Therefore, it is important to always look your best. Of course “your best” is subjective, but the idea here is simply to present yourself in such a manner that will not detract from what you have to offer.
4. Watch what you say on social media
I don’t know about you, but when I meet someone that I am interested in connecting with I head to the Internet. Sometimes I start with a simple Google search and then I click on every open social media account that comes up. If you don’t do it, you better believe that someone has done it to you.
People always want to know more. They want to see what you say online, they want to see what kind of photos you post, they even want to see who else you are connected with. Make sure that your online behavior can’t come back to haunt you.
This is all I have for now, but as I continue to navigate the waters of my professional life, I’ll be sure to update this post with any other tips that I think may come in handy.
Share some of your own tips in the comments section below.